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Bärenfänger, Maja, Justus-Liebig-University Gießen, Germany,
Binder, Frank, Justus-Liebig-University Gießen, Germany,

A number of research infrastructure projects are currently constructing the next generation research environments for digital humanities (Wynne 2010; ESFRI 2011). They are also conducting activities to interact with potential users, early adopters and key multipliers in the field. With this paper, we report on our experience of conducting such activities at the local institutional level in order to (1) identify potential users, to (2) survey their needs and current practice with regard to digital humanities, to (3) try and stimulate them towards adopting research infrastructures where appropriate and, (4), where the case, to identify remaining barriers. We report on our work in progress that is taking these communicative activities to the local level of several humanities faculties of a large German university.

Research infrastructures (Wittenburg et al. 2010; ESFRI, 2011) are complementing a portfolio of established models of supporting computationally intensive research processes in the humanities: (1) the professional intermediary and (2) competence centers (Edmonds 2005; McCarthy & Kirschenbaum, 2003). Some recent infrastructure initiatives have already engaged in bringing research infrastructures to the user, for instance TextGrid and D-SPIN (Binder et al. 2010), others have contacted prospective users to sharpen the research infrastructures’ visions and priorities (e.g. Herold et al. 2010). We believe that these activities need to be complemented at the local levels of universities as well and thereby taking a local perspective on the users and the conditions under which they are carrying out their research activities.

A consideration of the local perspective has two initial foci: The first one lies on general local conditions. These are conditions concerning the local status quo and local infrastructures in digital humanities (henceforth: DH). The second focus has to lie on the local user itself, or better: potential or real users of DH infrastructures, their knowledge about DH infrastructures, their attitude towards DH infrastructures, their requirements and wishes, especially concerning local support structures. Consecutively, a consideration of the local perspective has to lead to an appropriate local DH infrastructure strategy. In the following, we will outline the questions which have to be considered in an analysis of the local perspective, and the methods which can be used for this analysis, before we will conclude with the elements of a local DH user strategy.

An analysis of the local conditions should begin with a detailed analysis of local DH-related research activities: What is already happening (maybe without naming it DH)? Which current and past projects have an affinity with DH? Who are the experts? Which DH support structures already exist, and which current and future roles do local libraries and computing centers have? Methods to be used in this stage are web-based inquiries (on current and past research activities and on existing DH support structures) and expert interviews (on current and future DH strategies). In a second step, it is necessary to further shed light on the (potential or real) users of DH infrastructures, e.g. the local researchers in the humanities. Do they know about existing national and international DH infrastructures? Do they use national or international DH infrastructures? Do they cooperate with DH centers? Which attitude do they have towards DH infrastructures? Which apprehensions or hopes do they have? What requirements and wishes concerning DH infrastructures do they have? Expert users should also be asked whether they are willing or able to serve as professional intermediaries for their local colleagues. This survey on local users should differentiate between experts and non-experts. This could be realized by a qualitative analysis of interviews with two kinds of groups, an expert group and a non-expert group. Furthermore, an online-survey could be used to quantify the findings of the qualitative study.

The analysis of the local conditions and users may then be used to develop a local DH user-strategy which should include elements like local community building, local public relations activities and local support structures. Several such elements have already been described and implemented in DH infrastructure projects and initiatives like TextGrid, D-Spin, CLARIN, and DARIAH. Established community building events like summer schools (e.g. Binder et al. 2010), or the THATCamp series, can also be instantiated as light-weight events, such as a local ‘Data Day’ (Woutersen-Windhouwer 2011). Instruments such as newsletters or mailing lists can be used and adapted for local contexts. Apart from these existing event types and strategic elements, a local perspective on DH infrastructures should also be complemented by local support structures like a DH competence center and local professional intermediaries.

At the Justus-Liebig University Giessen, we conducted a survey of the local DH-related research activities and local DH support structures. We found that more than 25 ongoing or recently completed projects in two of five faculties for humanities could be regarded as DH related projects. This is a surprisingly large amount of projects, if you consider the size of the faculties observed. For the categorization procedure, we defined digital humanities with regard to methods and digital practices. Projects which are classified as DH related projects therefore have to use computer-based methods (e.g. ‘Die Ordnung von Wissen in Texten’), use or produce digital linguistic corpora (e.g. ‘English as a lingua franca in science and business communication’), digital archives (e.g. the ‘Prometheus’ image archive), digital editions (e.g. the digital edition ‘Chronik des Gettos Lodz Litzmannstadt’), or other digital material (e.g. ‘e-campus Altertum’).

The crucial point is that most of these projects do not define themselves as DH projects, which is fatal if you want to build up a local digital humanities community. This finding, which complements previous observations and discussions (e.g. Joula 2008; Svensson 2010; Prescott 2012), is most important for a local DH strategy. What has to be done first, is to make researchers aware that they are already working in the field of digital humanities, and that they could gain a lot from identifying themselves as part of a local and global DH community. We think that this first step, becoming aware of the field of digital humanities and becoming aware that one is already part of the game, is one of the most underestimated and at the same time most important points, if we would like the digital humanities community to grow and if digital humanities research infrastructures should be used by more researchers than at present time.


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